LAS VEGAS — For the first time in 2017, the BYU football team celebrated a road win with Friday night’s 31-21 win at UNLV.
The 3-8 Cougars haven’t had much go their way this season. But a freshman quarterback making his first career start and a career night from running back Squally Canada (214 yards, 1 touchdown) gave BYU a night to remember in Sin City — a place where the team has never lost to the host Rebels.
“I would say we’ve had a lot of challenges and disappointments this year, so to be able to come to Vegas, on the road, get this big win and celebrate in the locker room, everyone was amped,” said quarterback Joe Critchlow, who completed 14-of-22 passes for 160 yards and a touchdown. “We were all so excited and ready to go.”
Here are three quick thoughts on the underdog Cougars’ win in southern Nevada.
Joe Critchlow’s first start
With Beau Hoge too injured to play and Tanner Mangum out for the season with an Achilles’ tendon injury, Critchlow got his first start at quarterback — and the true freshman fared well early.
With only true freshman Kody Wilstead and relegated scout-team quarterback Koy Detmer Jr. to back him up, offensive coordinator Ty Detmer let Critchlow throw the ball early and often. The Tennessee native ended in a sack with 7:58 left in the first quarter, but did not take a loss of yardage for the remainder of the night.
In total, Critchlow’s first quarter as a starter netted 17 yards of offense and three punts. UNLV, by contrast, gained 126 yards on 22 plays in the opening quarter. Afterward, he got warmed up.
“Towards the beginning of the game, I’d say I had a little bit of nerves,” Critchlow admitted. “But I feel like once our running game started clicking and we were getting a lot of chunks, it made the passing game easier.
“I’m guessing we ran for a lot of yards, and that makes my reads a lot easier, it makes the defenses we see easier and effective.”
The freshman finished with 160 passing yards and a touchdown, only took one sack and did not turn the ball over.
“I think Joe came out there and did really well for us,” Canada said. “He came out, had to get warm, and overthrew a couple of balls. But I talked to Matt Bushman, Micah Simon and Jonah Trinnaman, and we decided to make him right. We made the game easier for him and he started completing passes.”
An … offense?
BYU fans can be forgiven if they were confused by this game. The Cougars ran a functional offense, and it came seemingly out of nowhere from one of the worst offensive teams in the NCAA through 10 games.
After a slow start, though, the Cougars piled up 155 yards of offense in the second quarter, including two touchdowns. By the second drive of the third quarter, BYU had 21 points — six above its average — while the defense was holding 30-point scoring UNLV to a single touchdown at the time.
BYU finished with 425 yards of offense, including 265 yards on the ground split mostly between Canada and Wildcat quarterback Austin Kafentzis.
Canada doubled his carries from last week’s breakout performance at Fresno State, and the results were as he expected — so good, he struggled to ever come off the field.
“They started to see the side of me from high school,” Canada said. “My head coach would do something like that — they just wanted to make me mad, because I run better when I’m mad.
“They know I want to stay in the game, but they know it keeps me on edge.”
BYU defense steps up against top runner
UNLV running back Lexington Thomas entered Friday night averaging the 16th-most yards per game at 118.1, but the Cougars held him quiet for much of the night.
Thomas had just 83 yards and a touchdown, including a solitary 23 yards in the third quarter, when BYU took a double-digit lead into the final period and forced the Rebels to become a pass-first team the remainder of the way.
“I mentioned earlier in the week that we had to own the front,” said BYU head football coach Kalani Sitake said. “I didn’t think we did well enough on defense (overall), but we did enough to win.
“I think our guys just rallied and played hard. We didn’t get pushed back as much as before and got a lot of good yards. We have to make better plays downfield with our corners and safeties. But the D-line can control that — and we even missed a few opportunities to make some sacks.”